More than 250 people marched through the streets of downtown Asheville on July 29, protesting the North Carolina General Assembly's education plan, which includes cuts but no raises for teachers, and ends tenure. The march was organized by the Asheville City Association of Educators, in conjunction with an NCAE protest in Raleigh.
The marchers gathered at Asheville Middle School before proceeding to Vance Monument. The crowd included parents, teachers, students and other opponents of the legislature's education overhaul. The NCAE has announced that it plans to sue over some measures, including a pilot voucher program, asserting that these violate the state constitution.
Those gathered wore red and many held "Support N.C. Public Education" signs. One protester, Michael Davis, an Asheville High junior, said he was there to support schools and public teachers. “My mother's a teacher. I come from a long line of teachers,” said Davis. “Students aren't getting the education they need because of the cutbacks and lots of the students are suffering from that."
Chuck Larrick, a seventh-grade teacher, held a sign grading the General Assembly an F-minus because, he explained, “without a strong public education system you can't build a strong economy." He said staff and supply cuts endanger this, as do decreased pay for teachers. Along with no raise in this year's budget, the state ended a bonus for educators who have a postgraduate degree.
"What new teachers want to come to North Carolina?" he told Xpress. "Teachers going across the state line are going to make 50 percent more than they make now.”
"If things don't get better in the next few years, we're going to have to move to another state so that [my son] can get a good education," Eva Chazl, a teacher and parent, said. "More important to me than my salary is that my child get a good education."
As they marched toward downtown, the line of people chanted, "Forward together, not one step back.” When they reached the monument, organizer and kindergarten teacher Tasha Lewis thanked the crowd for joining educators in the protest.
Said Lewis: "I never thought that what I love to do so much would be in jeopardy." — David Forbes
Supporters rally for redistricting reform
With state legislators opting not to vote on redistricting reform this year, local bipartisan supporters rallied in downtown Asheville Aug. 1 to start campaigning on behalf of passing the measure in 2014.
A bill was introduced in the N.C. House this year that would put the power of drawing election districts in the hands of a nonpartisan committee instead of legislators. The idea is to put an end to the kind of political gerrymandering and legal disputes that have plagued North Carolina for decades, said Madison County resident Tom Coulson, a volunteer with Common Cause who helped organize the local event.
Under the current law, the General Assembly is charged with redrawing voting districts every 10 years to keep them in line with the latest census data, empowering legislators to decide which voters they represent. That power was in the hands of Republicans for the first time in more than a century after the 2010 census. And perhaps taking a lesson from how the Democrats operated for decades before them, they drew boundaries in ways that could ensure dominance for years to come.
But the proposal to reform the system has garnered bipartisan support from some members of the local delegation. Fairview Republican Rep. Nathan Ramsey joined with Asheville Democrat Rep. Susan Fisher in sponsoring the legislation.
“There are very few issues where you can work across the aisle these days, and this is a good example of one,” Fisher said.
Ramsey added: “It’s not a Republican idea, it’s not a Democratic idea, it’s an idea that’s good for our state.”
Last year, an identical bill passed the Statehouse by a wide margin, but stalled in the Senate. This year, the measure was introduced in the House but never voted on, despite support from Republican Speaker Thom Tillis.
Henderson County Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady, a speaker at the rally, called the inaction “very disappointing.”
“We haven’t been able to get enough of our Republican colleagues to support it,” he reported. However, McGrady noted that when Democrats held the power to draw the lines, members of his own party were largely in support of the change – with Democrats opposed.
“If it was good enough for my Republican colleagues to support it four years ago, hopefully it will be good enough for them to support soon,” McGrady added.
On a hopeful note, McGrady said that the next census isn’t scheduled to take place for another seven years. “We have until 2020 to get across the goal line,” he said.
Coulson added: “Nothing really good happens in a hurry. … We’re going to fight to make it law.” – Jake Frankel